For some reason it's not actually possible to buy a media streamer that does what I want. To correct this situation, I've come up with a list of things that media streamers should have
Yesterday the new Archos TV+ media streamer was formally launched in the UK. This comes at an interesting time, because the big Apple TV update is coming soon and other companies are trying to sell the idea of streaming media to consumers. The problem is, no one seems to have got it right yet. So what would make a perfect media streamer, and why hasn't anyone made one yet?
I've seen a few devices that claim to be the answer to my needs, but none of them really are. Apple TV is a handsome box, with a pretty UI, but until we get movie rentals in the UK, it's useless -- unless you're desperate to look at photos and listen to music on your TV. Apple plays it's usual game though, making it impossible to watch XviD or DivX material on it, unless you're prepared to do some pretty serious hacking.
The D-Link DSM-330 is a good idea, because it's cheap as chips and can stream both DivX and Xvid, but it doesn't have any built-in processing, so it has to use your PC to decode video. This is fine if you have a fast PC, but it causes problems for HD material, especially if you don't have a dual-core machine.
Then there's the Archos TV+, which offers some good features. It will play XviD, as well as stuff that's protected by Windows-based DRM, but it lets itself down by not being high-definition capable. It also requires a series of paid-for plug-ins to get certain functionality to work.
At this point in time, there are two devices that have it nearly right. Both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have pretty advanced media-streaming capabilities. The problem is, neither is especially compact, the Xbox 360 makes a most ungodly din, and they cost a fair bit too.
So, what would make the perfect media streamer? Here's a handy checklist for manufacturers to print out and keep in their development labs.
1) The perfect media streamer should have a built-in hard-drive. 100GB is probably enough
2) Should be accessible over a wireless or wired network, as a network share and require no special software to drop media on to the hard drive
3) Should be able to access video over the network, via plain old drive sharing on a PC, Mac or Linux machine. So no stupid software -- that includes iTunes and Windows Media Player
4) Have a simple user interface -- Apple TV's is good, but the remote control makes it a pain to use. The D-Link DSM-330 looks great, and does everything well, but can stutter because it's too reliant on your PC.
5) Must be sensibly priced -- £150 seems about right
6) Allow TV, film and music rentals and purchases that can be backed up on a PC
7) Come with free Moon on a stick
If anyone knows a product that does all this please let me know -- use the comments below, or our forums -- and if you are a company that makes one, send it to me for review! -Ian Morris